Research and analysis

Public Attitudes Survey 2012

A survey of public attitudes towards the ethical standards and conduct of those in public life.



The fifth Biennial Survey of public attitudes towards conduct in public life was launched on Monday 23 September 2013 at the Institute of Government and completes ten years of tracking public attitudes towards standards of conduct in public life.

This latest survey maintained many of the core questions from earlier surveys allowing us to observe continuing trends over a long period and introduced several new questions, with the aim of broadening the examination of public expectations.

Key changes to overall perceptions include:

-Over the lifetime of the survey there has been a substantial decline in the percentage of respondents rating standards as ‘high’ or ‘very high’, while the percentage of those rating standards as ‘quite poor’ or ‘poor’ has steadily increased, showing a clear trend.

-The proportion of the population falling into two groupings characterised by positive attitudes (‘all is well’ and ‘hopeful’) increased from 62% in 2004 to 82% in 2008. During 2010.

-The year of the MPs’ expenses scandal, the proportion in those positive groups fell to 55%. In the latest survey (2012) a slight improvement – 59% – was registered.

-There is a very high level of confidence expressed in the fairness with which people will be treated by a range of public services in areas where the vast majority of people have most experience of the public sector such as doctors, police, planning officers.

-The analysis of the cumulative data shows that public attitudes are responsive to events and their presentation and that public confidence can be improved as well as damaged by the way in which individuals and groups of individuals behave in public life.

-Over the five surveys, public perceptions of a range of professions to tell the truth demonstrate consistent relative ratings. High court judges and police officers score highly while tabloid journalists and government ministers and MPs in general, score poorly. When compared with other British and European data, levels of trust in these professions are not especially low, except in comparison with the Netherlands and Scandinavia.

-Levels of trust are slightly higher among younger respondents, those from higher social grades and those from ethnic minorities.